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June 12, 2002

Research: Cure

Question from a physician in the USA:

I am caring for a toddler with type 1 diabetes whose mother is an obstetrician and currently pregnant. She knows of a private company that will collect, process, and freeze cord blood, but they seem to be just a bank. Are there any centers that are collecting cord blood for stem-cell research for diabetes?


I don’t think that this woman will find a research group that is looking for cord blood samples for research on stem cell samples that might be used for type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes. These stem cells are already differentiated into ‘endodermal stem cells’ which can be life saving in certain cases of hereditary aplastic anemia, but which, at the moment, cannot be used to develop the ‘endodermal’ stem cells that are the precursor of insulin-producing beta cells.

This situation may one day change, but at this time the feeling in this center is that the expense of freezing cord blood may not be cost effective when the chance of the sibling getting the same kind of diabetes is probably a little less than 1:20. In any case, the ability to induce insulin production in totipotential stem cells is still very much in its infancy. The politics of stem cell research has boosted expectations of this approach beyond what is likely to be possible for a number of years.

Additional comments from Dr. Bill Jones:

All the cord blood collection services I have dealt with appear to be just storage centers. I am not aware of anyone doing stem-cell research for diabetes. However, I am not in the research arena so my knowledge is limited in that regard.